What Happens If You Use Credit Card Points to Book a Flight and Then Cancel the Card?

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Million Mile Secrets reader, Reggie, commented:

My Citi ThankYou Premier card annual fee is coming due soon.  I already used Citi ThankYou Points earned on this card to book flights.  If I cancel the card, will my flights get canceled?

Great question, Reggie!

There will be no changes to Reggie’s scheduled flights if he cancels the Citi ThankYou Premier card.

When Reggie booked flights through the Citi travel portal, he essentially paid with a cash equivalent.

If he needs to change or cancel the booked flights in the future, he’ll deal directly with the airlines.  So it won’t matter if his Citi card is active.

Cancel Credit Card Points Flights

When You Redeem Credit Card Points for Airfare, You Can Take-Off as Planned! Even If You Cancel Your Card, There Will Be No Changes to Your Scheduled Flights!

I’ll explain why booking through credit card travel portals can be a good idea.  And what Reggie should consider before canceling his Citi card!

Use Credit Card Points for Flights Through Bank Travel Portals

Link:   Book International Flights With Citi ThankYou Points! 

Link:   How to Get $500 Worth of Travel With NO Blackout Dates

Link:   Save Points (and Money) Using the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal

Major banks like AMEX, Chase, and Citi have credit cards that earn flexible points.  Usually, you’ll get the most Big Travel by transferring these flexible points directly to airline and hotel partners.

But sometimes, it makes sense to redeem credit card points through the bank’s travel portal, like with Citi.  This can be a good deal if you:

  • Don’t have enough miles to book a regular award flight
  • Use fewer points than a regular award flight
  • Want the flexibility of NO blackout dates
  • Want to earn elite qualifying miles toward airline status

For example, I searched last-minute holiday flights from San Francisco to New York (JFK) on the Citi travel portal.  And you can use Citi ThankYou points for flights that might otherwise be blacked-out for award travel.

Cancel Credit Card Points Flights

Use Citi ThankYou Points to Book Last Minute Holiday Flights Through the Citi Travel Portal Without Thinking About Blackout Dates!

And folks like Reggie can get a better deal booking flights this way.  Because rewards points on certain credit cards are worth more through bank travel portals.

For example, when booking flights through the Citi travel portal, Citi ThankYou points are worth:

Note:   Beginning July 23, 2017, Citi ThankYou points with the Citi Prestige card will be worth 1.25 cents each toward flights. 

Cancel Credit Card Points Flights

Booking American Airlines Flights Through the Citi Travel Portal Is a Great Deal for Folks With Citi Prestige. But This Will Change Starting July 23, 2017!

And other banks offer similar bonuses.  For example, with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, your Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth 1.5 cents each when you book travel through the Chase travel portal.

Using points to book through bank travel portals is basically the same as paying with cash.  This means you can use credit card rewards points, then cancel the credit card.  And nothing will happen to your flight plans.

Keep in mind, there’s no scenario where you can get your credit card points back.  If you booked a flight but plans changed, you’ll be subject to each airlines’ policy for changing or canceling paid airfare.  You’ll likely have to pay a fee to change your flight or request a credit for future travel.

3 Things to Consider Before Canceling a Credit Card

Link:   How to Get Your Annual Fee Waived

Link:   New Citi Rules Restrict Sign-Up Bonuses to Once per “Brand” Every 24 Months

Link:   When Should You Cancel Your Credit Cards?

Reggie plans to cancel his Citi ThankYou Premier card because the annual fee will hit soon.

But before he does, there are things to consider.

1.   Retention Bonus

First, Reggie can call the bank to see if they’ll consider waiving the annual fee.

If not, he can see if they’re offering a retention bonus.  Sometimes getting extra bonus points makes it worth keeping the card open another year.

Folks interested in retention offers should check the FlyerTalk thread to see what others got on the same card.

Cancel Credit Card Points Flights

Before Canceling a Card, Contact the Bank to See If You Can Get a Retention Offer! Sometimes They’ll Credit All or Part of the Annual Fee, or Give You Bonus Points!

2.   Future Sign-Up Bonus Eligibility

Remember, Citi now restricts new sign-up bonuses to folks who have opened OR closed ANY Citi ThankYou card in the past 24 months.

So if Reggie closes his Citi ThankYou Premier card, he will be unable to earn a new ThankYou points sign-up bonus for 24 months.

If Reggie hasn’t already had the card open for 24 months, he might consider waiting until then to cancel.  Because after 24 months, he can apply for another Citi card that earns ThankYou points, like Citi Prestige.

This way he’ll be able to earn a new sign-up bonus.  And have the option to cancel his old Citi ThankYou Premier card to restart the 24-month cycle.

3.   Downgrade to a No Annual Fee Card

Instead of canceling a card, which could impact your credit score, Reggie might consider downgrading to a no annual fee card.

Because converting to a no annual fee card does NOT require a new credit pull.  And you can keep your existing credit line!  This helps you build a long-term relationship so you can get approved for more cards in the future.

Cancel Credit Card Points Flights

You’ll Save Money on Annual Fees by Downgrading to a No Annual Fee Card

For example, Million Mile Secrets team member Keith downgraded his Citi ThankYou Premier card to a Citi Double Cash card to save on the annual fee.

Remember you’re not eligible to earn a sign-up bonus on the new card you downgrade to.

Bottom Line

You don’t have to worry about changing your flight plans if you paid with rewards points from a credit card you canceled.

Because using points through a bank’s travel portal, like Citi ThankYou, is essentially like paying with cash.  After you book, any changes or cancellations must be handled directly with the airline.

Before canceling a credit card, always remember to check with the bank for retention offers.  Or see if it makes sense to downgrade to a no annual fee card so there’s no impact to your credit score.

Thanks for the question, Reggie!

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Editorial Disclaimer: Neither the responses below nor the editorial content on this page are provided or commissioned by the bank advertisers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertisers. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the bank advertisers. It is not the bank advertisers’ responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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10 responses to “What Happens If You Use Credit Card Points to Book a Flight and Then Cancel the Card?

  1. Just wanted to share my experience with cancelling an AA flight after using ThankYou points. There was a schedule change in the flight, which I was able to use as justification to cancel my AA flight for free. The AA agent explained that because the itinerary was booked through a “travel agency” (which is what Citi ThankYou portal qualifies as), the money would go back to them. There is no way for AA to issue a refund to a different credit card. At the end, I noticed my ThankYou points re-appeared and all was good.

    I am *not* sure how this would’ve worked if my credit card had already been cancelled so just be vary that upon cancelling (whether you are paying a cancellation fee or not), the money WILL go back to Citi.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, George! You may have found an exception to the rules due to the schedule change. Typically, when you book flights using ThankYou points, you’ll see a message that it’s non-refundable.

  2. If you downgrade, is that considered opening or closing a card and therefore triggering the 24 month wait period?

  3. I have an AA flight canceled. It was a non refundable ticket but since they cd the flight they processed the refund. They told me I had to go through my travel agent which was the thank you point agent. It took a few weeks and they returned my points.

  4. Great Article. What would happen if you used the Citi Prestige 4th night free on a prepaid hotel room? Because its prepaid you get the refund upfront but would anything happen to the reservation if I canceled the card before the date of the actual stay?

    • Your hotel reservation shouldn’t be affected after you pay. But in my experience the 4th night free credit posts after the stay, even with prepaid hotel reservations.

      • I recently booked a prepaid rate at an Intercontinental. The T&C online states you receive the credit in 1/2 billing cycles after a prepaid rate posts to your account. I had to call the concierge to get them to process the credit but it came though last month and my stay isn’t until June =)

  5. So downgrading preserves your credit line and account history but still starts a 24 month period of waiting to be eligible for another citi card sign up bonus. I was hoping downgrading would not be counted as closing an account avoiding the 24 months of bonus ineligibility. Boy do I miss the good old days with no Citi 24 month, Chase 5/24, and Amex once per lifetime per card product rules. Then as long as you paid every card in full on time you could get every card you wanted going from one min spend to the next with no road blocks. And at least every 24 months you could go back and churn your favorite card bonuses again.